Grana Padano with lysozyme preservative, TAR confirmation

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The Regional Administrative Court (TAR) of Lazio, with ruling dated 14 December 2023, finally recognized the preservative nature of the egg lysozyme used in Grana Padano PDO. (1) An essential decision to guarantee transparency on the label, in compliance with the Food Information Regulation (EU) No 1169/11.

1) Preservative additives in some PDO cheeses, introduction

Preservative additives they are admitted in the production specifications of some other DOP cheeses – such as Grana Padano, Provolone and Montasio in Italy – as they are necessary to inactivate unwanted microorganisms (i.e. clostridia) present in the milk of cows fed with silage. (2) These microorganisms, also called ‘anti-dairy’, in fact trigger a gaseous fermentation in cheeses during maturing, which alters their structure and flavours, to the point of causing the rind to break and in some cases the literal ‘explosion’ of the cheese.

Grana Padano DOP it is therefore made by using the preservative additive lysozyme from eggs, which was introduced in its production specifications in 1991 (instead of formaldehyde, which has since been banned as a potential carcinogen) to stop clostridia in the milk of cows fed with silage.

Parmigiano Reggiano DOP – unlike Grana Padano DOP – it is made with milk from cows fed exclusively on fresh fodder, such as the stable polyphytic meadows of the Val d’Enza, and hay. A superior quality milk, substantially free of the microbiological contaminations mentioned above. It is therefore not necessary, and indeed it is strictly forbidden, to use preservatives of any kind to prepare the king of cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano.

2) Grana Padano, the ‘without preservatives’ deception

The ‘crafty people’ of the Consortium Grana Padano DOP, as we have seen, had proposed to the Ministry of Health to reclassify lysozyme, ‘from preservative additive to adjuvant/processing aid, in Grana Padano DOP cheese with a maturation period greater than or equal to nine months’.

The Ministry of Health – with circular dated 8.5.18, signed by the then general director for Hygiene and Food Safety Gaetana Ferri – gave a favorable response to the aforementioned request. In clear contrast, as we have seen, with the Food Additives Regulation (EC) No 1333/08. (3) And on 20.7.18 it denied access to the documents of the proceedings requested by the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP Consortium.

The everlasting director of the Grana Padano DOP Consortium Stefano Berni, on the basis of the ministerial circular, therefore advised the members that ‘the word CONSERVANT will have to disappear when stocks are exhausted‘ from every label and information material (e.g. flyers, brochures) on Italian cheese as well as the best-selling PDO in the world.

3) TAR Lazio, the appeal of the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP Consortium

The Consortium for the protection of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese therefore presented an appeal to the Lazio Regional Administrative Court on 11.9.18, to obtain the annulment of the acts of the Ministry of Health referred to above as well as of a mysterious opinion of the Superior Council of Health cited in the scandal circular. Deducing the incompetence of national institutions to express themselves on the questions of interpretation of European regulations on food additives and their violation.

Lysozyme, as well as being peacefully classified as an “additive” and included in the lists attached to the regulation [EC 1333/08, Annex II, ed.];

– it is however used in Grana Padano cheese precisely as a “food additive”, with the precise technological purpose of controlling the onset of anomalous fermentations with gas production (the so-called “late swelling” of the wheels); (…)

– it is used intentionally in order to ensure a stable persistence in the food product and so that this persistence has a long-lasting technological effect (over the 9 months of maturation of Grana Padano), not limited only to the processing and transformation phase (preventing “late swelling ” from clostridia); (…)

– persists in the finished product not only in the form of a mere residue, but in particularly significant quantities with the further clarification that this substance is then destined to remain stably present in the finished product‘.

4) TAR Lazio, the decision

The Lazio Regional Administrative Court first of all rejected the preliminary questions raised by the Grana Padano DOP Consortium and the Ministry of Health regarding the hypothetical lack of legitimacy of the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP Consortium. ‘The judicial initiative proposed here is part of the essential function carried out by the appellant Consortium relating to the protection of the PDO “Parmigiano Reggiano”.

‘Both Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano are in fact DOP cheeses, hard and long matured, which are placed in the same reference market and which are, therefore, evidently in competition with each other‘. [To the point that, it is worth adding, the current prices of the 20 month GP and the 24 month reserve PR are aligned, despite the qualitative differences].

However the production methods of the two PDO cheeses are different; the producers of Parmigiano Reggiano, in fact, on the basis of the relevant specifications, use exclusively milk from cows that are fed with alfalfa, forage and vegetable feed; while instead the Grana Padano specification allows the use of milk from cows that are fed silage and allows the use of lysozyme in the indicated percentage in order to avoid the possible presence of Clostridium tyrobutyricum type spores in the milk‘.

4.1) Responsibilities of the Ministry of Health

The health administration has:

– ‘issued instructions to the health departments of all regions and autonomous provinces‘ which, according to the Lazio TAR, would be ‘competent to carry out checks on the correct labeling of products of this type‘. An inaccurate ruling, since Legislative Decree 231/17 entrusted this responsibility to ICQRF (4,5);

– affirmed its expertise in the field of food additives on the basis of Italian law 283/1962. As noted by the Lazio TAR, ‘the national lists of chemical additives referred to in the aforementioned national regulation have been superseded by the community lists referred to in the reg. CE n. 1333/2008 and the entire matter of food additives falls within community competences‘.

Rimane, however, it has the power to regulate technological adjuvants, given that these do not constitute the subject of community regulation except within certain limits identified in the regulation‘.

4.2) EU law, no derogations permitted

The thesis of the exemption the reference community legislation limited to the specific case of Grana Padano DOP cheese with a maturation period greater than or equal to nine months has no regulatory basis at community level and conflicts with the principle of food safety protected at community level.

Union competence in the field of food additives there is no doubt (..). Indeed, the European Union’s food safety policy:

– is mainly governed by Articles 168 (public health) and 169 (consumer protection) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;

– aims to protect consumers while ensuring the smooth functioning of the single market. Union legislation covers the entire food supply chain, ‘from producer to consumer’ in an integrated way, and applying a ‘One Health’ approach‘.

4.3) Food additives, EU procedures

For editing purposes of the aforementioned qualification in Grana Padano PDO with maturation longer than 9 months, with its inclusion in the field of technological adjuvants, which are subject to a different regulation in many respects, a decision in this regard by the European institutions is therefore necessary‘.

In both cases updating the lists of food additives authorized in the European Union and interpretative decisions in this regard are therefore subject to the common procedures defined in Regulations (EC) 1331/08 (article 1.2.2) and 1333/08 (articles 10.3.3 and 19, respectively).

5) Provisional conclusions

The detailed sentence of the TAR Lazio – in upholding the appeal of the Consortium for the Protection of Parmigiano Reggiano PDO – puts an end to five years of deception on the presence of the preservative additive ‘egg lysozyme’ in Grana Padano PDO. However, with an approach that is unsatisfactory in two respects:

– it is reprehensible that the administrative judge with jurisdiction over the legitimacy of the provisions of the Italian central administrations has employed 1555 days to decide on an act of the Ministry of Health which concerns food safety and consumer protection. Even more so when we consider the exceptional sales volumes of Grana Padano cheese which are meanwhile marketed with misleading labels, in Italy and around the world;

– it is disheartening to note that the losing parties, the Ministry of Health and the Grana Padano DOP Consortium, were not sentenced to court costs. Furthermore, such a late decision will not even allow the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Court of Rome to ascertain any criminal liability for abuse of office and other crimes.

6) Concluding notes

This makes it clear, even in the courtrooms, the substantial difference between Parmigiano Reggiano DOP – the king of Italian cheeses, strictly ‘without preservatives’ (as well as TrentinGrana), with 150 awards at the 2023 edition of the World Cheese Awards – and Grana Padano which is also the best-selling DOP (or PGI, Protected Denomination of Origin) cheese in the world, but has a lower quality.

Not by chancePerhaps the production quotas for Parmigiano Reggiano DOP are in the hands of farmers who work from 5 in the morning to 8 in the evening to raise their ‘cash cows’ and produce superior quality milk. While those of Grana Padano DOP are transferred as financial securities and concentrated in large industries, as well as being ‘issued’ and sold by the Consortium itself. (6)

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Regional Administrative Court (TAR) for Lazio, Third Quater Section, sentence 14.12.23 in proceeding No. 12994/2018 REG.RIC.

(2) Silage is fodder stored in silos (eg corn silage) in an acidic environment where both ‘good’ microorganisms (lactobacilli), which attack carbohydrates and improve the digestibility of feed, and ‘unwanted’ and pathogenic microorganisms (clostridia) ferment. )

(3) Dario Dongo. Grana Padano and egg lysozyme, a necessary preservative? The Italic anomaly. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Dario Dongo. Sanctions reg. EU 1169/2011, Legislative Decree 231/2017. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) The powers of the health administration on official controls regarding consumer information are today limited only to news of health relevance. See the previous article by Dario Dongo. Controls, the role of the health administration. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) Dario Dongo. Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano and production quotas. #Clean shovels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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